Senator Carona's Email Update
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July 27, 2006

What's new . . .

On June 28, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the majority of Texas' 2003 Congressional redistricting plan, but ruled that the Texas Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act in Congressional District 23 by disenfranchising 100,000 Hispanic voters in Laredo. A three-judge federal panel will now decide how the district and affected surrounding districts should be redrawn to respond to the high court's ruling. The panel has received suggested new district lines from interested parties and will hold a hearing on August 3, 2006. It is expected that the changes will affect the November races for the impacted districts. Changes to our North Texas congressional districts are not anticipated.

The State Board of Education held a hearing to discuss how to implement the new requirement that high school students take four years of math and science. This requirement will apply to students entering high school in the fall of 2007 and was part of the recently passed education reforms. Among the options discussed were requiring two additional credits to graduate, so that students would continue to take electives. This idea was pushed by many art and music teachers. The board also discussed which classes will be approved for the fourth year of math and science, taking input from many educators on this issue. School district officials voiced concerns about the availability of certified math and science teachers and paying for the lab equipment required for the additional science classes. The State Board of Education is expected to issue rules on this issue later this year.

The Richardson and Dallas Independent School Districts were two of four districts from across the state selected to receive grants for science, technology, engineering, and math academies. The two-year, $480,000 grants from the Texas Education Agency were awarded as part of the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (T-STEM) program, which is intended to improve science and math performance across the state.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department has announced that Texas will receive $5 million to apply to strengthening the security of our state's chemical facilities. This money will be used to create "buffer zones" around these facilities to protect them from possible attacks.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas approved a plan to prohibit the disconnection of electric service for non-payment for certain customers. Elderly, low-income customers and customers for whom interruption or suspension of service will create a dangerous or life-threatening situation should contact their electric provider if they receive a disconnection notice or are unable to pay their bill in order to establish the required deferred payment plan. Low-income customers who are not elderly are also covered under the plan but must continue to make payments under any existing deferred payment plans. More information is available from your electric provider and from the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Today, the Texas Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing on the Trans-Texas Corridor-35 at the Grauwyler Community Center, 7780 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas. Open house begins at 5:00 p.m. and the Public Hearing begins at 6:30 p.m.

Focus . . .

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) is one of the largest state agencies. It has regulatory authority over all lines of insurance, workers' compensation, and the State Fire Marshall's Office.

The primary function of TDI is regulating the state's insurance industry. Since almost every Texan has some type of insurance coverage, ensuring the viability and integrity of the insurance industry is essential. In this capacity, TDI licenses insurance companies, agents, third party administrators, HMOs, and other entities related to insurance that conduct business in Texas. TDI is also responsible for examining the financial solvency of insurance companies to ensure that these companies have the funds to pay claims and expenses. This past month, TDI ordered Vesta Insurance Group and its affiliated companies, including Texas Select, which has 16,034 policyholders in Dallas County, to cease operating in the state, saying the company did not have the assets to adequately protect their customers. For more information about this action, and to find out what you should do if you were insured by one of the affected companies, click here.

TDI also investigates insurance fraud, including selling insurance without a license, filing illegal claims, and misrepresenting insurance policies and the coverage they offer. These cases are referred to the Texas Attorney General, local district attorneys, or United States attorneys. TDI is also responsible for reviewing most advertising and marketing materials to ensure they accurately reflect the product being offered and reviewing and approving the rates for most lines of property and casualty insurance.

In addition to the above regulatory functions, TDI is also responsible for a wide variety of consumer protection and assistance programs. Their consumer protection division works with consumers to resolve issues such as late payment of claims, overpayment of premiums, and disputes over what is covered under certain policies. Consumers can also file complaints against their insurance company through consumer protection. For more information on filing complaints click here. However, TDI does recommend that consumers work with their insurance company to resolve these issues before making a formal complaint.

The newly created Division of Workers' Compensation works to resolve disputes involving medical and income benefits paid between injured employees and their workers' compensation carrier. TDI was given regulatory authority over workers' compensation with the passage of HB 7 during the 2005 legislative session. Consumers may call the Injured Worker Hot Line at 1-800-252-7031, and their call will be routed to the appropriate field office.

TDI also has a wide variety of educational publications available through their website for consumers. These cover a wealth of topics from long-term care insurance to renters and homeowners insurance, as well as rate guides to be used when shopping for insurance.

The Department also operates to help Texans shop for health insurance. This website has a wealth of useful information and can direct you to insurance companies and agents in your area.

I would also like to mention the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC). It is its own state agency and not a part of the Texas Department of Insurance. Although it does not represent individual consumers, OPIC advocates for consumers' interests before TDI, the Legislature, other state agencies, and in court. Their website contains valuable information, such as HMO report cards and a consumer bills of rights for auto credit and homeowners lines of insurance.

Did You Know . . . ?

When visiting Austin, be sure to stop by the Capitol Visitors Center. It is located in the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds in the restored General Land Office Building, the oldest state office building in Texas. The Visitors Center is home to many exhibits, including one of the General Land Office's most ironic employees, William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry. Admission to the Visitors Center is free and staff are available to answer any questions you may have about the exhibits or the Capitol.

In Closing . . .

With the school year right around the corner, please remember the upcoming sales tax holiday. From August 4-6, most clothing and shoes under $100 will be exempt from local and state sales and use tax.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16